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Chef Paul Wahlberg­ paints a colorful portrait of his circa-­1970s Dorchester childhood among a large, growing and now very famous family.

“Imagine a nest of birds with all their mouths open chirping and it’s always time to feed them,” Wahlberg, one of nine children of Alma and the late Donald Wahlberg, told the Boston Herald. “That was our house. When somebody went to the store for milk, they came back with two gallons. We ate meals that fed a lot of people.”

It’s those images of family life that inspired the new menu he’s releasing this week at Wahlburgers restaurants here in Greater Boston (Fenway, Hingham, Lynnfield) and beyond. (The company is in the midst of a massive franchise expansion plan.)

Fortunately for Paul, his customers and the rest of the Wahlberg clan — including international celebrity brothers Donnie and Mark — Mom and Dad were pretty good cooks.

“My dad made chili all the time,” said Wahlberg, who’s now a TV star in his own right thanks to the success of the A&E reality series “Wahlburgers,” where he and Mom play a central role. “Nothing fancy. No onions. No sour cream. Just chili. It was awesome.”

Alma specialized in sauce and pasta. “Her lasagna is still my brother Mark’s favorite thing and he asks for it whenever he comes home. It was also a great dish at a time when she was feeding a lot of kids.”

The new menu features several dishes right off the Wahlberg dinner table, modified for scratch cooking and contemporary tastes.

Paul and the kids grew up eating sloppy joes with canned Manwich sauce, in true blue-collar style. The new Wahlburgers version is a simply simmered blend of ground beef, onions, tomatoes and seasonings, served open-faced on Texas toast with crispy onions and house-made cheese sauce.

The Wahlberg clan also ate mac ’n’ cheese made from scratch with “government cheese” — a box of processed cheese familiar to many struggling families decades ago. In my neighborhood, kids used to boast that “government cheese makes the best grilled cheese.”

The new Wahlburgers mac ’n’ cheese features smoked bacon and a garlic panko bread crumb topping, but stays true to its roots with a four-cheese sauce blend that includes Wahlberg’s modified version of government cheese. Cooking with some version of it has become a retro trend at upscale eateries around Boston.

Other new menu additions include “the Beast,” with two 5-ounce burgers, pulled pork, pickles, house-made blue cheese and barbecue sauce; a duo of Pearl all-beef hot dogs; and seasonal selections such as strawberry rhubarb salad and surf & turf burger with lobster and house-made lemon-chive mayo.

“Food is one of those things that have a lot of memories tied to it,” said Wahlberg. “We’re just kind of sticking to our roots with foods reminiscent of our own childhood.”

Wahlburgers Sloppy Joe

2 lbs. ground beef

1 c. diced onion

3/4 c. tomato puree

1/4 c. ketchup

1 t. white vinegar

1/4 c. brown sugar

1/4 t. garlic powder

3/4 t. Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Saute ground beef over medium-high heat until browned. Drain fat. Add onions and saute 4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer 20 minutes and check seasoning for taste. Serve open faced on a toasted roll and top with fried onion strings. Serves 6.

[bostonherald.com]

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